Only 3% Of Cold Calls Work: Here’s How To Fix It

Amar Sheth
Amar Sheth

Every time I write anything about cold calling, I seem to upset a lot of people. But I hope you see the reality of these numbers. I can’t verify that cold calling works only 3% of the time, but what I can tell you is that it’s effectiveness in reaching people is shrinking. I’m not the one reporting this; the data is from ALL of us who grind daily in an effort to talk to more potential buyers to serve them better.

Although I wasn’t at Dreamforce 15, I didn’t feel overly disconnected thanks to social media. I was monitoring several hashtags and keywords that allowed me to have a front row seat to some of the hottest sessions there.

An interesting image started to flow by on a lot of tweets and I’m including it for you here (this one was from Jill Rowley). It forms the basis of the point I’d like to elaborate on.

Evolution Enterprise Buyers Social Selling

The BIGGEST Problem

How in the world do we make quota if we can’t talk to the right number of people? Do you see the challenge?

Although it’s tough to get data on the success rate of cold calling over the years, I thought it would be interesting to see how the term “cold calling” has performed in Google. If the world’s largest search engine can’t give us a clue, then we seriously have some data problems.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s look at the data.

Cold Calling Google Trends

This graph illustrates how often and popular the term “cold calling” was in the Google search engine from January 2005 to December 2011. We believe “Social Selling” really started to make an introduction into the sales vernacular around late 2011 to early 2012, so I wanted to know how cold calling was really doing until that time.

In summary, this chart shows the following:

  • “Cold Calling” as a search term was searched less every single year.
  • The term’s popularity score is nearly half of what it once was.
  • Nearly every time a negative story on cold calling was released (due to scams, ripping people off, etc.), the number of searches fell sharply (note the letters on the chart, those are the releases of major news stories).

Yes, this isn’t a major empirical study but it demonstrates clearly that the sentiment behind cold calling has fallen drastically.

Here are some other factors that I believe impacted the popularity score of “cold calling” as a search term as well:

  • The Millennials began to enter the workplace – given that social, digital and mobile is in their DNA, cold calling as an effective sales tool was (and still isn’t) a likely option.
  • The rise of Social Selling – although not reflected strongly in the data (yet), I fundamentally believe that lagging indicators will demonstrate this.


There’s No Silver Bullet Solution

Even if there is a 3% success rate with cold calling, we still continue it – and until a viable alternative presents itself, we will continue this for a while.

But, can I shift your attention to the data point about social media? 75% of B2B buyers are now influenced by social media. It that is the case, then as a sales leader or professional, it’s probably wise to start spending more time there.

I fundamentally believe that by using all mediums to our advantage – social, phone and e-mail – we can maximize coverage and increase our probability of success.

Sounds Simple, What’s The Problem?

This data – I hope – doesn’t surprise you. If you’re in sales or support sales, you know the challenges better than anyone.

From our position in the market, through discussions with many companies worldwide, the problem is with the “traditionalists”; an umbrella term I use to describe the obstacles & frustrations many feel within organizations. These are the people from all parts of your organization that:

1. Refuse to acknowledge the shift in how people buy today and/or;

2. Although they acknowledge this shift, are not too happy with it and, as a result, they’ve been in deep research mode for years now on “the solution.” I call this paralysis by analysis. They let their research get in the way of action.

3. Buy a tool or software program hoping to check the box that says “I’ve done my part!” when in reality most sales people haven’t got a clue on the “why” of the initiative.

3. Hide behind policies, culture and brag about the slow moving speeds of their departments and organizations.

Don’t Chase The 3%

If you’re stuck chasing the 3% to help meet your revenue objectives, it’s important you realize you have options. I’m not suggesting that social media and Social Selling is a silver bullet, but I am suggesting that you get serious about incorporating social into your daily sales process.

This isn’t about one way to communicate over another – please don’t leave with that take-away – this is about serving our markets and buyers better.

Tweet me @AmarSheth to share your worst cold calling stories! Or, reach out so we can connect on LinkedIn too.

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